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HIV and AIDS: Global Reality Check; Surviving the Holidays; Is Your Child's Wish List Toxic?; Helmet for Football Players

Aired December 1, 2007 - 08:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Thanks, guys. This is HOUSE CALL. We're making the rounds this morning to some of the most intriguing medical stories of the week.
First up, HIV and AIDS. Progress has been made here in America, but we have a surprising global reality check. Then, terrifying medical mistakes. How you can avoid becoming a victim.

Plus, surviving the holidays and all those toys in Santa's sack. Could your child's wish list be toxic?

And hard-hitting help for football players. You've got to see this helmet that could save lives.

Let's get it started, though, with a look at the global AIDS epidemic. World AIDS Day is being marked this weekend. And in America, the AIDS crisis appears more under control thanks to prevention and new treatments. But scratch the surface and a frightening truth is revealed about this disease elsewhere. Robyn Curnow is on the front lines in South Africa.


ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These three little boys eating a packet of chips we gave them are the loneliest children we've ever seen. Left to fend for themselves, almost forgotten, after their mother and aunt died of AIDS earlier this year and their elder brother was killed in a train accident last month. None of them know what's happened to their fathers.

14-year-old Lindani tells us, we just sit. Sometimes we work. His youngest brother, 4-year-old Zama, is HIV positive. He cries a lot. So, too, does Lindani, who seems traumatized, shell-shocked.

Of the three brothers, 6-year-old Incosiapa seems the most carefree. He sometimes does more than just sit or work. He loves to draw in the sand outside their home.

(on camera): It's in areas like this that the true horror of the epidemic reveals itself. People living in this valley say that no one has been spared and that nearly every single household has been affected by HIV/AIDS.

(voice-over): Mavis Mtembu is a community health worker hired by an international organization, who walks these hills going door to door and sees the full scale of the epidemic. MAVIS MTEMBU, HEALTH WORKER: I think of hundreds, 100 percent is HIV. 100 percent is, yes.

CURNOW: The young and the very old are trying to hold together this community, says Mavis.

MTEMBU: I see no future the way I see it, no future, because people are dying, people are sick, and people are still going to die in this area.

CURNOW: Death, it seems, is these children's only companion, the fresh graves of their family members reminding them that HIV/AIDS has already stolen their childhood and perhaps also their future.

Robyn Curnow, CNN, in Kanini Kozulunatel (ph), South Africa.


GUPTA: Wow, what a powerful story. Robyn Curnow, thank you.

About a million people in the United States are living with HIV and AIDS. And a fourth of them don't even know they have the disease. According to the United Nations, 33 million people across the world are infected with HIV/AIDS. And 2,500 die from AIDS every day.

We spoke to Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health this week. He reminds us it's important for Americans to keep paying attention to the AIDS virus.


ANTHONY FAUCI, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: We know that, particularly now with economic globalization and globalization of trade, that what happens in another part of world impacts us. There's also the responsibility, which I think is a moral responsibility, for humanitarian considerations when other citizens of the world are suffering and dying. We do have a moral responsibility to try and help those who are less fortunate.


GUPTA: And of course, we will continue to bring you the latest on the battle against AIDS here and around the world.

Medicine mistakes can happen to anyone anywhere. Recently, actor Dennis Quaid's newborn twins were given a dangerous dose of a powerful drug, while they were being treated at a Los Angeles hospital. Elizabeth Cohen has more on how you can prevent something like this from happening to you.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Medication errors harm at least 1.5 million Americans every year. That's according to a report by the Institute of Medicine. Now some medication errors are completely out of your control, but sometimes there are things you can do to avoid becoming a victim. So in this week's "Empowered Patient" column, we list some tips.

First of all, if you're a patient in the hospital, ask the nurse for a complete list of every medication that you'll be given, what it's going to look like, and what time you'll be receiving it. So that way, if you're supposed to have an orange pill at noon and instead somebody gives you a blue one, you'll know that perhaps there's been some kind of a mistake.

And as an outpatient, when you go to the pharmacy to pick up your drugs, open up the bottle and show it to the pharmacist and say, is this what the doctor ordered? For more tips on how to avoid being the victim of a medication error, go to and look for empowered patient.

For "Empowered Patient", I'm Elizabeth Cohen.


GUPTA: The recent death of rap artist Kanye West's mother following cosmetic surgery brought attention to the importance of being educated about your health care and your doctor. Our top tip segment today looks at empowering yourself to pick a good cosmetic surgeon.


GRANT CARLSON, DR., COSMETIC SURGEON: The most important is clearly to me word of mouth, friends, people they know, going to see surgeons they're satisfied with. I think that is a large part of it. Who in the community?

Sometimes, however, you have to have a word of caution with that because perceptions sometimes are not reality. Someone can be well- known in a community and actually have had a great number of difficult problems and complications. So we have to be careful a little bit that these are friends that you trust, number one.

I think number two is talking to other doctors, nonplastic surgeons, who they would recommend that you go see. I personally would not recommend a patient see another doctor unless I would be comfortable sending my own family member.

I think the third one, the most -- is probably equally as important is that the patient do their homework. If they're planning on having really what is elective surgery, they need to spend some time researching, first the procedures, what they're like, the different types or their newer techniques. Does the doctor you're going to see do these newer techniques? What is the benefit of doing them as opposed to some of the older ones?

We -- today we have a lot of allure of advertising. And some of them say quicker recovery and things, which is actually lesser surgery. And frequently, the results aren't as good. So learning about the procedures, but also then getting along learning about the doctors, learn about the surgeons. Are they board certified? What do they specialize in? how long have they been in practice? Where do they operate? And what hospitals are they on staff at?

So I think those are the top three.


GUPTA: As you can see, it's all about empowering yourself to get the best health care possible. Stay with HOUSE CALL for more medical news, including taking one for the team. How a helmet can keep the hard-hitting action on the football field from becoming dangerous.

Then, toys are not just fun and games anymore. We're going to have the very latest on how to keep your children safe this season. And...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why is it that because the days are shorter I'm much more tired?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So that holiday blues thing, is that fact or fiction?


GUPTA: Feeling a little bah humbug? Well, it could be more than just the blues. Details in just one minute on HOUSE CALL.


GUPTA: The cold weather may be getting you down, but coming up in just one minute on HOUSE CALL, we're going to have solutions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They say that you can't run away from your troubles. This is one case where you actually can run away from your troubles.


GUPTA: The holiday season is here, and all this month we've been looking at ways to survive this crazy time of year. The cold weather may get you into the spirit of the holidays, but for millions of Americans, winter isn't a wonderland. It's just plain depressing.

On this week, we asked you which topic you'd like us to tackle on HOUSE CALL. And you voted for seasonal depression. Thanks to all those who voted. Judy Fortin now on how to battle those winter blues.


JUDY FORTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Shorter winter days and longer nights can literally bring on the blues. It's estimated 12 to 18 million Americans suffer from a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

NORMAN ROSENTHAL, DR., AUTHOR, "WINTER BLUES": In severe cases, people with Seasonal Affective Disorder can be disabled, unable to work, unable to keep their commitments to other people, depressed, even suicidal.

FORTIN: Dr. Norman Rosenthal, author of "Winter Blues," says SAD is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain due to a lack of sunlight.

ROSENTHAL: The light is providing us with certain chemical changes in the brain. And when we take that away in susceptible people, the changes are not occurring. And you then get the whole cascade of symptoms.

FORTIN: Symptoms such as fatigue, lack of energy, oversleeping, difficulty concentrating, and craving for foods high in carbohydrates that could lead to weight gain. Specially designed light therapy especially used in the early morning is one of the most common treatments. Exercise and modified diet can also help. In some cases, doctors might recommend antidepressants or psychotherapy to help get through the dark days of winter.

Judy Fortin, CNN, reporting.


GUPTA: All right, thanks, Judy. And you e-mailed us your questions at home about Seasonal Depression. So we decided to take them to our expert Emory psychiatrist Dr. Charles Raison.

The first e-mail question is from David in Colorado who asks this, "My wife was first prescribed Paxil 11 years ago by her doctor for Seasonal Affective Disorder and general tiredness. He continues to prescribe her the drug regularly. Is it wrong to repeatedly prescribe such a drug without re-examining the patient? Dr. Raison?

CHARLES RAISON, DR., EMORY PSYCHIATRIST: I think anybody that's on a chronic medication should be seen by a physician and examined for their symptoms at least every three to four months. So how long should you stay on an antidepressant if you just have Seasonal Affective Disorder, if you're just somebody who gets depressed usually every winter and then it goes away in the spring?

And the answer is that while it's probably not bad for your health to stay on an antidepressant all year long, there are a number of studies now suggesting that you can actually go on in the antidepressant in the fall before you develop your depression every winter and go off it in the spring and do very well.

GUPTA: And this next e-mail question is from Michael in Georgia. He asks this, "I've heard about light therapy for depression, but can you get the same effect from the regular light bulbs used at home?" RAISON: No, unfortunately, regular light bulbs don't have enough light. It's a matter of if there's a measure of something called lux, which is a measure of the brightness of light. And you need a bulb that's about 10,000 lux to get an antidepressant effect for Seasonal Affective Disorder. Most light bulbs are much, much less than that.

So one of the things I sometimes I tell patients is if you're suffering from winter depression, it's worthwhile even in a dark gray place to go outside in the morning and get that ambient light.

GUPTA: And Dr. Raison also had some tips for people who think they may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

RAISON: Tip number one is get treatment, right, because the treatment is really fairly straightforward. And just the use of a light box is, in fact, extremely useful.

Tip number two is kind of recognizing when the symptoms start, so people that really have Seasonal Affective Disorder, can tell you that they literally start getting depressed within the same couple of week period every year, usually in the fall.

Tip number three is, you know, try to find environmental things that help with the symptoms. They say you can't run away from your troubles. This is one case where you actually can run away from your troubles. Really, life's short. You should think about moving some place sunny. That will make it go away.

GUPTA: Really good tips there, but now let's turn to one of the highlights of the holiday season for any kid -- toys. Recent toy recalls are casting a shadow, if you will, over Santa's bag of goods.

You've been looking into this, Judy. What have you found?

FORTIN: Well, Sanjay, I've spoken to so many parents this holiday season, who are finding a real challenge to shop for toys. And it's not just because of the millions of recall notices.


FORTIN (voice-over): Strolling the toy aisles of a large department store can be overwhelming, but Amy Granelli, a mother of four, is looking for more than the perfect present. She also has safety on her mind.

AMY GRANELLLI, MOTHER OF FOUR: For a long time I was one of those, I'm like, oh, this is, you know, safe. If it's on the shelves, it's safe.

FORTIN: With millions of toys recalled this year because of lead hazards and other safety concerns, pediatrician Jennifer Shu says the burden falls on parents to keep up with the latest information on toys.

JENNIFER SHU, DR., AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS: It's important for parents to be alert and aware and to check for recalls and look at the toys carefully to make sure the toys are safe and sound for their kids.

FORTIN: Shu stresses toy safety should be a concern year round, not just during the holidays.

SHU: So much of it is common sense, looking for loose parts, anything sharp, anything that could be a choking hazard, anything that could get tangled around the child's neck.

FORTIN: She cautions parents and others to read the labels on toys and follow the age recommendations closely.


FORTIN: Now there are a number of reasons why age recommendations are really important. Sanjay, this is something I bet you've had to deal with already, where you've got an older child with a younger sibling. Have you had these problems yet?

GUPTA: Yes, so my older one is 2 1/2 and my younger child is 10 months. And what we find is that we have to separate some of the toys, what -- things that are age appropriate for my older one no longer appropriate for the younger one. So they got to take the small pieces and hide them away or something.

FORTIN: That's exactly right. Pediatricians say hide the small pieces or supervise their play. I know in our house, our children are three years apart. When my daughter was playing with dolls, all their little accessories and shoes were a real problem and a choking hazard for kids under three. So in our house, Barbie went barefoot for a long time.

And the other thing why you want to look at the age recommendation for children's toys is because they can be so frustrating for the kids. There's nothing worse than having a 2-year- old child with a toy meant for a 6-year-old. You really have to take those toys, set them aside, and wait for a couple years for them to use them. And that's such a waste of money and so frustrating for the children. So that's something you want to keep in mind.

GUPTA: You know, something else that's been frustrating is all these recalls. I feel like I've had to steal toys out of my kids' toy cabinets just when I hear the recalls. And how do people find out about the recalls?

FORTIN: Well, there are a couple of ways. When we went to the store, we actually saw the notices posted at the customer service desk. Now that's a lot of trouble for parents to go to. I also went online. If you go to the Consumer Product Safety Commission Web site,, you can find all the information. But I'll warn you, I checked a short while ago. It's a huge list but everything parents need is right there.

GUPTA: All right, Judy, thanks for helping us survive the holidays.

FORTIN: You're welcome. GUPTA: A little parenting advice there as well. I'll heed that for sure. Thank you for being here.

Now up next, hard hits on the football field can be dangerous. We all know that. But there's a helmet that lets coaches know when their players are in jeopardy called the smart helmet. That's straight ahead.

And later, a tribute to a young Army medic. We're going to hear his amazing story. Stay with us.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL. The college football season is headed for its finale. And fans are going to be looking for some hard-hitting action this weekend and into the bowl season. With the hits, though, come some risks. But a new high tech helmet may change all that.


GUPTA (voice-over): University of Oklahoma quarterback Sammy Bradford knows the risks associated with playing football.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Going the other way, Bradford makes the tackle on Marlon Williams.

GUPTA: He suffered his latest concussion just two weeks ago, but many experts are trying to stop serious head injuries before they happen. Teams like Bradford Sooners are using helmets equipped with the HIP system. It stands for Head Impact Telemetry. Sensors similar to those found in car air bags line the inside of these helmets. They monitor the impact and exact location where the players are hit. It sends that information in real time to a sideline computer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So far today we've had 208 total impacts.

GUPTA: Athletic trainers and team doctors monitor the data. Now doctors and trainers need to determine how fast and how hard a hit has to be to cause serious damage, like a concussion, a contusion, or even bleeding in the brain.

BROCK SCHNEBEL, DR., TEAM PHYSICIAN: We get beeped when there's an impact over a certain threshold. And then we act or don't act based on what the clinical situation is.

GUPTA: O.U.'s head team physician Brock Schnebel says the helmets don't prevent concussions but do provide valuable information.

SCHNEBEL: We saw this as an opportunity to study our kids' head injuries and find out how bad they're getting hurt and try to make changes in helmet design, how we treat our athletes, how we take care of them before and after an injury.

GUPTA: And how head injuries impact the brain and better ways to treat them. (END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: And more than a dozen colleges now use these helmets. And a consumer version of the HIT's helmet is also available online for about $1,000.

Still to come on HOUSE CALL, it's not always easy to stay healthy, especially in the inner city. But get this -- some kids are finding new ways to stay fit in their own neighborhoods.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSE CALL. Getting exercise can be tough for kids living in inner city neighborhoods. And many school gym classes and recreation programs are being lost to budget cuts. Now some communities are taking the lead in providing fitness programs to kids in areas where gyms might be hard to find.


CROWD: Two, three, four, five...

GUPTA (voice-over): This is boot camp for kids. It gets the heart pumping, gets kids moving, and gives them a place to go.

CYNTHIA GREGORY, YMCA-METROPOLITAN DC: We offered the school, they've come, and they've signed up for this program. And the schools from all over the region come here for their PE.

GUPTA: It's called the PHD program, Physical Healthy Driven. The YMCA of Metropolitan Washington sponsors and designs it for city children ages six to 13, whose schools may have cut phys. ed to save money.

These after school programs fill a very important need for exercise and fun.

AARON HARRIS, YMCA-METROPOLITAN D.C.: There's a lot of different games, the way, even if you're not the most athletic kid, you can still get a lot out of the program.

GUPTA: There's another example in Boston at Brandy Cruthird's gym. She's a former professional basketball player, who realized urban kids had nowhere to work out. So he founded Body by Brandy Fit Kidz.


GUPTA: These children are referred by community hospitals and get a prescription to visit the gym for free. Cruthird hopes getting them off the couch is just the first step for a healthier life.


GUPTA: The Fit Kidz program is being expanded in Massachusetts. And the YMCA is looking at implementing this program across the country. With much more to come on HOUSE CALL, including a salute to an unsung hero who saved lives while in the line of fire.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL. A few weeks ago on, we asked for your stories of military medical heroes. And we heard a couple of them right here on HOUSE CALL. And we had such a huge response, we wanted to continue the tributes.

This one comes from Mosul in northern Iraq. In September, part of the Army's 27 Cavalry came under attack during a security patrol. A rocket propelled grenade ripped into one of the patrol's vehicles, severely wounding all three soldiers inside.

Army medic Private First Class Adam Moore was the only medic on site and ran to the truck under fire to care for the victims. In just minutes, Private Moore treated all three soldiers for potentially deadly injuries. His quick actions are credited with saving the lives and the limbs of his fellow soldiers. Gives me chills.

Moore has been in the Army for less than two years and is scheduled to come home this month. Thanks to Private Moore and all the medical personnel who care for American troops overseas.

We will work on bringing you more stories of military medical heroes throughout this entire holiday season. For now, thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned for more news on CNN starting right now.